The Art and Science of Drafting your Statement of Purpose

Drafting your Statement of Purpose should be considered to be, essentially, a communication exercise, which you ought to take very seriously. Why do we say this? Well, for two reasons: first, going forward, there will be many such situations in which you may have to interact with others by means of the written word. And second, subject-matter knowledge is not enough. You would need to find an effective way to communicate your message so as to evoke the desired response from its target reader(s).

Below are a few tips to draft a decent SoP:

  • Cover all important points: make sure you mention your academic accomplishments and major achievements, if any, along with papers presented, seminars and workshops attended, projects undertaken, and internship experience you have had, in their order of importance.
  • Highlight your soft skills: exhibiting good communication skills will enhance the impact of your academic performance and may even prove to be decisive if you happen to be tied with another applicant for admission whose academic performance is identical or equal to yours.
  • Avoid clichés: As far as possible, avoid words like “team player”, “leadership qualities”, etc. Try and find better ways to showcase such qualities or accomplishments. For instance, you may mention how effectively you worked with others in a close-knit team to successfully complete your project in a timely manner.
  • Keep it simple: It’s a rough draft. The beautification of language can come later as your suggested draft takes on a more sophisticated shape.
  • Start early: Some people tend to put things off until the last moment. On the other hand, starting early will give you more time to reflect on what you intend to include in your SoP. It will also minimize the risk of inadvertently leaving things out, enabling you to present a comprehensive narrative and present a strong case for your candidature.
  • Get help from experts: There are experts around who can help you draft an attractive Statement of Purpose thereby increasing your chances of getting admitted to the university of your choice. So, avail of their expertise and ensure that your SoP is a winner.

Dr. Harchol-Balter on the Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is an extremely important part of your application packet (click here for an explanation). A well-written SOP that brings out the most important facts about you as a candidate for higher studies, can open the doors of opportunity for you. On the other hand an SOP that tries to impress but focuses on facts that the admissions committees consider irrelevant can lose you the opportunity that you have dreamed of.

In the extract below Dr. Harchol-Balter, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie-Mellon University points out two common mistakes that many applicants make:

The grade regurgitator – “In my high school, I was ranked Number 1. Then I got a perfect score on my college entrance exams. Then I competed in a statewide math competition and I was the best. Then I competed in a national programming competition and I was 5th. In college, my GPA was 3.95 out of 4.0. For these reasons, I believe I will do well in your graduate department.”
What’s wrong with this? This portion of the essay is a waste of space. Awards are certainly relevant, however any award you won should be listed on a separate piece of paper which is titled “Awards and Honors” and which you can include with your application. There is no reason to tell us all this in your essay. It will only piss-off the people reviewing your application because they already read all this information earlier in your application and they now want to hear about research.
The boy genius – “When I was born, my mother gave me a glass ball to play with. I would lay and look at the prisms of light shining through my ball. At age 3, my father brought home our first computer and I disassembled it and then put it back together. It was then that I knew I wanted to become a computer scientist. By age 5, I had taken apart every appliance in our house. At age 6, I became a chess whiz ….”
What’s wrong with this? We simply don’t care what you did as a child, and we don’t believe you either. You’d be surprised how many applications from Einstein-wanna-be’s we get. If you really think this is relevant, put the important facts on a separate sheet of paper, and include it in your application. It’s best if your essay can stick with stuff you did in college and later.

 

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September Alert for Students Applying for Admission in Fall 2014

fall 2014September 2013

Here’s your checklist of tasks for this month – and note there’s a lot of heavy documentation work that you have to be doing, so be prepared to do a lot of running around to your college and your university

  1. Arrange for 10-13 sets of transcripts in sealed covers from your college or university – some universities insist on university transcripts
  2. Choose your recommenders (generally 3 recommendations are required, at least one of which should be from the educational institute last attended) and give them the necessary details – resume, copies of your mark sheets etc.
  3. Start working on your Statement of Purpose (target date for completion 31 October 2013) and resume

Note: for the full schedule see: timeline for fall 2014

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